Dave "Swany" Swanwick is addicted to two things: skis and terrain. He has been known to partake in such non-conformist ski endeavors as telemark skiing down the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. And when he's not guiding film crews to the sweetest spots in the big mountains of Alaska, the cameras roll on him.
At 28, Swany is a senior guide with Doug Coombs' company, Valdez Heli Ski Guides, a job he says is the best he's ever had. He's getting paid to heli-ski. He also has numerous film appearances to his credit, most recently Warren Miller's Freeriders and the Teton Gravity Research [TGR] film Uprising. And if this isn't enough variety, he fulfills his special passion for the steep terrain by skiing in Las Leñas, Argentina during South American winters.
"I don't know if I would have believed it back then," said Swany. "I was always like, 'I wonder if I could do that?' Then it got to the point where I'd look at the movies and be like, 'damn, I could probably ski as well as those guys.' And then I started doing it."
"Warren Miller is more of an established program.… I guess you'd call it," he explained. "I get paid when I go on the shoots, everything is all set, first class and, you know, that stuff is kind of cool, but at the same time, you sort of have no control over the footage. Like if you fall, it's in there, for sure. Whereas, with TGR, you know if you fall, it's NOT going to be in there, for sure."
"We pulled it off [in Italy]," said Steve Jones, a TGR partner. "We got a helicopter and found some north facing stuff. Swany is awesome he's super professional, a great skier and a fun person to be in the mountains with. He definitely enjoys himself in the mountains."
It turns out that one of the greatest runs Swany had all year was on that trip a 30 foot-wide chute with 500 foot rock walls on either side with no room for error.
Aside from skiing in Italy, his work and play take Swany to some of the most spectacular mountains in the world, but he always comes back to the familiar mountains of Alaska.
"I've been guiding up there long enough that I have a pretty good grasp on the terrain and the type of conditions that we're going to be looking at," he said.
Many of those clients he guides are film crews who book private helicopters, or "ships" for several weeks at a time. But it's not just about skiing. Last spring, he spent over a month riding with the Hatchet film crew, of snowboard film fame, in the Chugach Mountains, giving him the opportunity to build a unique relationship with some of the greatest snowboarders around.
"I'm basically going skiing with the best snowboarders in the world: Johan Olofsson, Jim Rippey, Victoria Jealouse, Tom Burt all these guys who are just the sickest …so that's an awesome experience for me to go ride with them. And it just makes my skiing that much better."
With access to any terrain, how do you judge an epic line?
"As long as you're up there and there's no tracks on it, it's a great run."
Michelle Quigley, Mountain Zone Staff
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